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Facing the future: is your operation ready?

"The winds of change are really a gale," and before editorial pages get blown away they must become centers of innovation, according to John Oppedahl.

Speaking during September's NCEW convention, Oppedahl challenged the editorialists to pack their pages with new ideas and invent their own future.

As a first-time convention participant it was refreshing and empowering to hear the former publisher and editor suggest that editorialists must recognize that the business model for newspapers is changing and that we must seize those changes and shape our pages for the future. Oppedahl didn't wallow in the "readership is down" and "how do we attract young readers?" lament so prevalent in our business. Rather, he offered solid ideas for keeping and attracting new readers, though not necessarily to our printed pages.

Oppedahl said the best way to meet the future is to invent it.

The shifts in the newspaper business are due to more than mere demographics or profitability--the audience and the competition are changing. Viewing newspapers through a new prism, Oppedahl said they are people, not paper and ink, or even that new editorial blog.

Readership may be down, but newspapers won't vanish; they'll be around to deliver local news and some types of advertising, such as the inserts. The key to attracting and keeping readers is making our content--our opinions--relevant, he said.

To find that relevance, Oppedahl suggested that editorialists stretch and recognize that they provide something that isn't available anywhere else: local opinion. Editorial pages must be more local, if not totally local, offering guest opinions and updates that readers won't find on another website or a blog.

We--newspapers and editorial pages--have a unique set of capabilities: Access to people in powerful positions, expertise and writing know-how. We need to take those assets and extend on them to create new ways of engaging thoughtful readers.

Our access to policy makers gives our pages and content more credibility and wallop than those of bloggers or online dilettantes. Thus, editorial content must be an integral part of our newspaper's website. At the most superficial level, we can use the site to promote our pages. More importantly, Oppedahl suggested we incorporate the Internet in our projects. Interactive efforts and guest opinions should become some of the tools in our boxes.

And he encouraged borrowing ideas from colleagues: "Every paper is doing something that someone else would like to know about."

Likewise, our pages must be better guides to the Internet, Oppedahl said.

"We need to be editors of the Internet" and tell readers what's available there and what they should be reading.

With that innovation won't come more money or staff. "Everyone's going to be smaller--get used to it," he said. However, the editorial pages must make a case for innovations. That could mean talking to the publisher about the value of the editorial pages or ensuring that their presence on the newspaper's website is easily navigated. In essence, don't allow the editorial pages to be taken for granted by the newspaper or the community.

While we may be amid gale-force change, Oppedahl's ideas should help editorialists build (and not tilt at) a few windmills and harness the change. And as a first-timer, I felt challenged and ready to do just that.

Ann Brown is editorial page editor of The Arizona Daily Star. Email annbrown@
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Title Annotation:PITTSBURGH '06 OPPEDAHL SPEAKS; newspaper publising
Author:Brown, Ann
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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